The Rwenzori Mountains
“The Mountains of the Moon”
Plotemy’s 2nd-century maps were the first to label them as the Mountains of the Moon, yet they are not remotely arid or colourless. However, as the mountains on the Rwenzori range convey such a sense of total inaccessibility, strangeness and wonder due to hosting large tracts of snow and ice in equatorial Africa, it’s understandable how the moniker has lasted almost two millennia.
As a child, I remember hiking through the foothills of the Rwenzori on one of my parent’s EWP expeditions – they are breathtaking with their unique and strangely alien looking flora, exquisite waterfalls, piping hot thermal springs and pools, rushing rivers and silvery mists.
The flora here is unique to equatorial and the Rwenzori is home to what has been called “botanical big game” that seems to get bigger and more alien the higher you climb, especially the lobelia and groundsels. The fauna in particular the birds are equally as impressive and the bird watching is world class.
Our trek of the Rwenzori takes you through the magnificent forests, marshes, plains and up the glaciers and, for the skilled climbers to the summit, Mount Margherita.
Could this magnificent world be disappearing? Certainly the Glaciers are.
Two recent works on the glaciers and glaciations in the Rwenzori are a major contribution to the study of glacial recession in East Africa. Glaciers and Glaciations by Henry Osmaston is an A1 sheet with detailed maps of moraine and other evidence of former glaciations during last 300,000 years. It includes an account of present glaciers since 1906 with photographs, tables of glacial chronology and precipitation, maps and sections showing Equilibrium Line Altitudes.
The three oldest pictures to the right (taken from the above map) are taken from the Stanley Plateau looking towards Alexandra (L) and Margherita (R) show progressive glacial progressive recession. The 2012 picture taken by Wielochowski dramatically demonstrates recent recession which could result with complete melting of the glaciers by the year 2050 or as early as 2025 depending on the rate of global warming.
The second work, Tropical Glaciers, by Georg Kaiser and Henry Osmaston, is published by the Cambridge Univerity Press,
“Tropical glaciers are both highly sensitive indicators of global climate and important freshwater reservoirs in some fast developing regions. This book gives a practical and theoretical analysis of tropical glaciology, including a useful definition of tropical glacier climate regimes and the analysis of the key glaciological variables. The Rwenzori Mountains and the Cordillera Blanca are investigated in detail as examples of tropical giacierized mountains. The fluctuations of their glaciers since the end of the Little Ice Age are reconstructed and the probable climatic reasons are discussed. A striking example of the serious dangers of disastrous floods posed by the current retreats of glaciers in some regions and consequent breaching of moraine-dammed proglacial lakes is described in detail, and how it was effectively made safe.
The evidence of great expansions of mountain glaciers throughout the tropics on several occasions during the Quaternary is summarized with particular attention to East Africa and the Rwenzori. The morphological and statistical methods of inferring the former climatic regimes which caused these advances are critically examined and then applied to particular mountains. They indicate that on these occasions tropical glaciers may have had different characteristics to modem ones, which affected their behaviour and so necessitate care in drawing inferences from their traces.”